A disc refers to the spongy layer that exists between each vertebral bone of the spine to keep them gliding smoothly and cushion the bones from shock. Due to certain traumatic situations, this spongy disc sometimes slips out partially from cracks within the hard exterior wall that encloses them and gets herniated, creating excruciating pain. In most cases, the pain can be controlled with medications and physiotherapy and subsides within a few weeks to months.
In some cases, surgery is required for these herniated or ruptured discs; the condition is also known as slipped disc, protruding disc or prolapsed disc. Whatever the name used, the fact remains that it creates continuous pressure on nerves leading to severe pain. A herniated disk can occur in the neck (cervical vertebra), upper back (thoracic vertebra) or lower back (lumbar vertebra). Slipped discs are most common in the lower, lumbar region than other parts of the spine and can seriously restrict day-to-day activities.
Surgery is only considered for herniated discs when the leg pain doesn’t improve within 2-4 weeks of non-surgical treatment and/or requires you to take strong medications daily; or when it is interfering with your normal routine and has created weakness, numbness or loss of motion.
Complete or partial removal of the disc is most commonly done through microdiscectomy to relieve nerve compression. These are minimally invasive methods that require smaller incisions and muscle sparing as compared to the traditional method which involves a longer incision and more muscle damage with longer hospital stays and recovery time. Other minimally invasive methods include percutaneous discectomy, laminotomy, laminectomy or laser discectomy.
Most patients are concerned about recovery time and how soon they can get back to work. Depending on the surgical method used and the general health of the patient, the surgeon is the best person to answer this question. In about 83% of cases, most patients can get back to work within 2-3 weeks. But this is just a guideline and shouldn’t be taken to heart as different people heal at different rates and a number of other variables also affect the overall recovery.
There are two main variables to recovery time and include the patients’ health history and the patients’ compliance of the recovery guidelines and exercises; therefore the patient plays a large part in controlling the success of his/her recovery period. A history of smoking also plays a major role in recovery and it is preferable that patients cease smoking at least 2 weeks prior to surgery. While recovery time is also affected by the surgical method used, there are a number of potential ways to reduce the recovery time and increase your comfort levels. These include:
- Follow your surgeon’s instructions closely and avoid doing the things to be restricted – even if you feel up to it!
- Physiotherapy and rehabilitation are an important part of the recovery process after surgery; it facilitates the healing process and should be followed diligently.
- Having the right expectations is essential irrespective of the surgical method used, as recovery always takes time.
- Don’t ignore your body’s warnings and do things that cause pain or discomfort. It could delay recovery.
- If you are a smoker (even one cigarette/day) stop smoking immediately